Hannibal City Council votes for independent investigation into city clerk

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April Azotea, owner of La Azotea Lounge, addresses the Hannibal City Council at the meeting Tuesday night regarding in investigation into the city clerk's office. Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. –  A third-party investigation will soon be underway concerning Hannibal City Clerk Angel Zerbonia.

City Attorney James Lemon confirmed at the Hannibal City Council meeting on Tuesday that an outside agency will be conducting the investigation. The council members confirmed it was decided by unanimous vote.    

The announcement comes after the council meeting on Dec. 20 when a number of Hannibal residents expressed concern regarding conduct by the city clerk that was brought to light through an email sent in July by Central Services Director Andy Dorian to other department heads.

Zerbonia has been on paid administrative leave for more than a month.

One of the speakers who expressed concern at that meeting was April Azotea, owner of La Azotea Lounge in Hannibal. Before the council voted for the investigation in a closed session, Azotea recalled they were up in the air on if it would be done internally or by an outside agency.

Azotea was encouraged by the unanimous vote for the third-party investigation and said it is a step in the right direction. She believes it will be a relief to many including people in the community and the council members as well.

“It makes more sense to do a third-party investigation, an outsider coming in and knows nothing and has no connections whatsoever,” she said. “At this point in time, I think a lot of people –including myself– are just wanting to speed this process up which should have been done a long time ago.”

Lemon said that the current situation has brought to their attention a lack of checks and balances in the city clerk’s office. He explained that all city employees are under the management of City Manager Lisa Peck except Zerbonia.

“The city clerk is an independent person who reports only to the council,” he said.  

Council members Charlie Phillips and Stephan Franke came together with an ordinance proposal requiring the city manager to provide an annual report of the city clerk’s performance in a closed session. 

Peck will also advise the city council within 24 hours of any complaint in regards to the performance of the city clerk made by a department director, any other city employee or a constituent of the city of Hannibal.  

“The thing that was proposed tonight, and that I will make sure is within in existing confines of the charter, would be to provide that the city manager is basically to do some type of reporting to the council on the activities of the city clerk and whether there are former complaints by either the employees or whether there are complaints by citizens at large,” Lemon said. 

Lemon will be receiving the documents this week to review them for compliance with the current charter and will then look it over to bring back to the next meeting in two weeks.

“We need to stay in compliance with the charter because we are too late to take it to the vote of the people and a charter change would need to be a vote to the people,” he said. “That means if it’s not in compliance it would be until August that we could do something.”

First Ward Councilman Darrell McCoy voted against making changes before the conclusion of the investigation. He said the idea is worth exploring but not until they receive detailed reports about what is happening with the city clerk’s office.

“I think it is prudent that we have the investigation and find out the details of the allegations against the clerk,” he said. “I think that’s fair.”

Third Ward Councilman Stephan Franke agreed that structural changes at “this juncture” might seem unfair, but he warned that the nature of the situation justified a change. 

“When it comes to the type of allegations that have been made they are of an urgent nature and as such, I think an update like this is also of an urgent nature,” he said.

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